By ROLAND KELTS
I was recently interviewed by an American television reporter about a popular simulated-dating videogame in Japan called Love Plus +. The game offers players a selection of cute virtual girlfriends for dates and relationships. Once the player has chosen his partner, the game's software constantly challenges him to find ever more effective ways of romancing her and keeping her happy.
At one point, the American reporter wondered why the virtual females in the game looked so young, docile and submissive. Was it OK in Japan, she asked me, a Japanese-American living in Tokyo, for men to pursue underage women?
It's not, of course. Like the famous Hello Kitty character, the game's girlfriends are designed to exemplify the Japanese cultural aesthetic of kawaii—adorably, irresistibly cute and dependent figures in need of attentive care and affection. It is precisely the "mincing, simpering personification of female subservience to the male" that abounds in stereotypes of Japan, according to Yoko Kawaguchi, a Japanese woman raised in North America. This misperception irritates Ms. Kawaguchi so much that she wrote a book about it.
While "Butterfly's Sisters" is a sweeping historical account of Western impressions of Japanese women, it focuses on an icon that long preceded Hello Kitty and virtual girlfriends—the kimono-clad geisha. Ms. Kawaguchi is most interested in the era when Japan officially opened to Western trade and diplomacy in the mid-19th century. This period, she notes, marks "the beginning of the long-continuing debate over the precise nature of the geisha's occupation." In other words: "Were they or weren't they," as the book's first chapter-title asks, high-class prostitutes? [more @ WSJ]